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Published: Saturday, 7/18/2009

Solar-energy fields envisioned as stimulus for jobless Ohioans

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Norm Johnston has an idea for shining a little sunlight on Ohio's gloomy economy.

Mr. Johnston, chairman of the nonprofit group Ohio Advanced Energy, wants the state to put laid-off workers to work covering Ohio with solar-energy fields made with Ohio-produced materials.

And he has a suggestion for where to get the money to start the project: federal stimulus funds.

"We can build solar fields all over Ohio that have 100 percent content made here," said Mr. Johnston, chief executive of Perrysburg's Solar Fields LLC and vice chairman of Germany's Calyxo GmbH, which operates locally.

Mr. Johnston has presented the proposal to Mark Shanahan, energy adviser to Gov. Ted Strickland, but the Perrysburg executive isn't sure where it stands.

Officials in the governor's office couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

Ohio Advanced Energy, which proposed the Ohio project, is made up of firms that offer products and services in solar, wind, and other types of renewable energy.

The organization envisions 30 solar arrays each capable of producing 10 megawatts of electricity enough to power thousands of Ohio homes.

In all, the installations would cost about $750 million.

The proposal suggests using stimulus funds for only the first two arrays and issuing bonds or developing another funding strategy for the remainder.

Kelly Schlissberg, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Development, said it s hard to say what chance the proposal has of getting a share of the $8.2 billion in stimulus funds allocated by the federal government.

It would depend on the specifics of the proposal, said Ms. Schlissberg, who wasn t sure how much money has been promised to other projects.

Monique Hanis, spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, praised the proposal as a bright idea.

It s a great way of putting the funds toward bringing the cost of solar down and creating a source of renewable energy, she said. Virginia and Tennessee are using stimulus funds for solar energy.

Ms. Hanis agreed with Mr. Johnston that Ohio produces many, if not all, of the components needed for solar installations. Manufacturers include industry giant First Solar Inc., which produces solar panels in Perrysburg Township, she noted.

Ohio is one of the hotbeds of manufacturing activity, she said.

Mr. Johnston said the proposed solar installations could be built on cleaned-up industrial sites no longer in use.

Unemployed workers could be retrained quickly for installation work through programs like those at Owens Community College in Perrysburg Township, he added.

The proposal recommends establishment of a program called the Green Conservation Corps, similar to the Depression-era Civilian Conservations Corps, to handle employment.

The work would quickly create 1,500 jobs, according to project proponents.

It also would help Ohio meet President Obama s goal of having 25 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2025, Mr. Johnston said.

And contrary to popular perception, Ohio has sufficient sunlight for solar energy to work, he added.

For example, the state has more sunlight than major cities in Germany, which is investing heavily in solar power.

We d like everyone in Ohio to know that we have the products, we have the weather, we have the people. We have everything in place.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:gpakulski@theblade.comor 419-724-6082.



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